Marvin Bagley III soaks up the attention at Duke with highlight dunks, 30-and-10 games and No. 1 overall buzz. He's the program's main attraction. But he hasn't distracted scouts from Wendell Carter Jr., who's quietly earning fans across the NBA.
"He's the sleeper we all know about," one NBA executive told Bleacher Report.
Overshadowed by his frontcourt partner, Carter has made a significant impression on scouts despite a more confined role in Duke's offense.
Multiple scouts admitted to moving Carter into the top 10 on their draft boards this season.
He leads the team in box plus-minus while ranking fifth in field-goal attempts behind Bagley, Gary Trent Jr., Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. Nobody in the country is matching Carter's particular production and efficiency, per Sports-Reference.com. He's the only one averaging at least 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while shooting 60 percent from the floor—numbers he's accumulating in just 26.2 minutes per game.
"Kid is a stud, can play inside and out," said the executive. "He'll be better with more spacing in our league."
Scouts have named Al Horford and Elton Brand as comparisons for Carter, a 6'10", 259-pound interchangeable big man at the 4 and 5 positions.
Along with a diesel frame and 7'3" wingspan, Carter's real selling point has been the refined, translatable skill set he's consistently flashed. And it's happened to complement Bagley's fly-around-the-floor style.
Carter averages 14.5 points (61.7 percent FG), all of which have come within the team's offense, as he's only recorded one possession in isolation the entire season.
One of the top finishers in college basketball, Carter converts at a 69.2 percent clip around the basket despite lacking explosiveness. He has terrific hands and an understanding of angles—specifically how to score at awkward angles while avoiding rim protection.
Around the basket (non post-ups): 1.08 PPP, 93rd percentile
The routine baskets aren't happening by chance. Carter shows excellent timing when it comes to positioning himself for catch-and-dunk opportunities off guard penetration.
Cutting: 1.5 PPP, 94th percentile
Even though he's missed on some makable opportunities (27-of-50), Carter is an advanced post scorer in terms of technique and creating shots. Fundamentally sound, he uses his power to seal off defenders and carve out space deep in the paint.
Half-court post-ups: 1.08 PPP, 71st percentile
He also shows impressive back-to-the-basket footwork to separate into quality looks from either side of the hoop.
Left block: 14 of 27
Right block: 9 of 13
Averaging 2.9 assists per 40 minutes, Carter has proven to be a smart passer as well—particularly out of the post finding shooters and cutters.
Post-up passes: 1.242 PPP, 70th percentile, 0.3 turnover percentage
17.3 percent of Carter's offense comes off teammates' misses. He cleans up around the basket, using his strength, length and rebounding instincts/motor to pull down loose balls in traffic and convert them into second-chance points. He's already racked up 26 putbacks in 22 games.
Teams looking to get more physical up front could show extra interest in Carter.
Putbacks: 1.388 PPP, 87th percentile
Arguably the most exciting aspect of Carter's development has been his shooting range. There aren't many 259-pounders who have his touch from outside.
He started to show more confidence in his shot after drilling four three-pointers in 18 minutes against Evansville on December 20. He's now made a three-pointer in five of Duke's last six games, and though the sample size isn't great, Carter's mechanics are highly convincing.
Three-pointers: 13 of 28
Two-point jump shots outside key: 10 of 20
NBA outlook, draft projections
The most frequently raised question from scouts revolves around Carter's defensive position: Does he guard NBA centers or quicker 4s?
It's not likely an alarming enough concern; Carter happens to block shots at a solid rate in college (3.1 per 40 minutes), and he isn't a complete stiff around the perimeter, though a small-ball 4 at the next level wouldn't be an ideal assignment.
The other question is about Carter's upside as an old-school big. He hasn't shown much as a face-up scorer or off-the-dribble player.
Still, between his post game, jumper, nose for the ball and toughness, he shouldn't have to make an All-Defensive Team, and there are players like Horford who still thrive in today's space-and-pace NBA.
It's unlikely Carter leapfrogs Bagley or other top prospects like Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Oklahoma's Trae Young, Texas' Mohamed Bamba, Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. or Slovenia's Luka Doncic. But Carter has started to cement himself in that next tier with Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, Kentucky's Kevin Knox, Alabama's Collin Sexton, Villanova's Mikal Bridges and Texas A&M's Robert Williams.
The Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers (via L.A. Lakers) and Utah Jazz are all teams projected to select late in the lottery who could stand to upgrade at the 4 or 5.
Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology unless otherwise noted. Quotes collected firsthand.